COVID-19: Pfizer shuts down Sir John Key's claim Government could have bought vaccines earlier 'for $40 million more'

Global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the company behind the COVID-19 vaccine being used in New Zealand, is shutting down Sir John Key after he suggested the Government could have paid more to have earlier access to jabs.

Pfizer has since said it hasn't done that for any Government in the world.

It comes after former Prime Minister Sir John wrote a column published on Sunday describing New Zealand as a "smug hermit kingdom" because of the Government's COVID-19 response. 

In follow-up interviews on Monday, Sir John doubled down on his criticism - saying New Zealanders needed a plan for beyond COVID-19. 

Sir John on The AM Show claimed a Government failure to buy COVID-19 vaccines when they were offered was behind New Zealand's continued lockdowns.

"The reason we locked down hard was that we failed to buy the vaccines when we were offered them, by the way, for $40 million more… but the lockdown's been costing us $1 billion, sometimes more than that a week," he told host Ryan Bridge.

"I know for a fact - over time when interest rates go up, the future Ministers of Finance will one day get up and say to the New Zealand people - 'by the way, that latest drug, those more police, those various different things you want, we can't afford those.'"

In response, Pfizer said the idea of any Government paying extra for early vaccine dose delivery was "incorrect and baseless".

"Pfizer is committed to equitable access that will give all people access to a vaccine," said a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant. "Pfizer entered into an initial agreement with the Government to supply 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on December 22 2020 and entered into an additional agreement for 8.5 million on March 5, 2021."

The spokesperson said Pfizer's discussions with the New Zealand Government were confidential but noted each agreement was based on dose availability at the time.

"We continue to meet our contractual commitments to the Government in every respect," the spokesperson said in a statement. 

"The rollout of the vaccination program including the management of inventory is the responsibility of the Government."

Earlier on Tuesday, National Party COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the Government should have at least asked Pfizer if securing vaccine doses earlier was a possibility.

"They did not even ask if that was an option on the table and in my view that is negligent. The Government should have gone to Pfizer and said, 'if we pay more [money] earlier, would you give us earlier delivery of vaccines?'

Chris Bishop, left, and COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
Chris Bishop, left, and COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

"That is an irresponsible action from a Government that should have been doing all that it took, all that it could to get as many vaccines into the country as quickly as they possibly could," Bishop told reporters.

Earlier this month, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Pfizer had a "higher moral standard" than the ACT Party after its leader David Seymour suggested offering cash for more vaccine doses. 

The Government "had conversations directly with representatives of Pfizer to discuss this issue. Pfizer has been very clear…  they are not willing to offer rich countries the opportunity to pay more in order to displace countries who cannot afford to do that," Hipkins told Parliament.